Emerging as the undisputed leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Goa ahead of the elections, leader of Opposition in the outgoing Assembly Manohar Parrikar is aiming to return to power again. Keen to shed his ‘arrogant' image, he is now mingling with people as he criss-crosses the State during his ongoing 15-day Jan Sampark Abhiyaan.
Mr. Parrikar is now openly admitting to have made mistakes during his previous term as Chief Minister, such as his unpopular move to cancel Good Friday holiday. Clearly, the BJP has realised that it cannot think of returning to power by alienating the Catholic community, which forms 27 per cent of the population.
It was, therefore, quite understandable when he ducked a direct question on BJP president Nitin Gadkari's latest statement supporting Narendra Modi as the next Prime Ministerial candidate of the NDA.
“I have no comments to make on national level politics. My agenda is only to give a good government to Goa — an inclusive government by taking all communities along,” was Mr. Parrikar's response.
Even his reply to a question over his RSS background was very carefully worded: “The RSS has not taught me anything wrong. To be a proud Indian, to be proud of Hindu religion does not mean one is against other communities. I can emphatically tell you that my government will not be remote-controlled.”
Standing atop his bedecked rath at Pillar village of St. Andre in north Goa, a constituency with nearly 45 per cent Catholic voter-base, Mr. Parrikar told The Hindu that people in Goa wanted change. “I can see it in their smiles and feel it when they shake my hand,” said the former Chief Minister who led two short-lived BJP-led coalitions in the State.
Wiping the vermilion off his forehead with a wet tissue in the sweltering heat, he jokes, “I now realise how tough it is for women who wear this on their forehead all along!”
He says even though the Abhiyan officially closes on January 30, the movement for change will continue till the polling of votes on March 6. With a lone Catholic MLA in the outgoing Assembly, the party has inducted four prominent Christian leaders from south Goa, most notably, Matanhy Saldanha, in the run up to elections so far.
During the campaign, Mr. Parrikar has been travelling 70-100 km every day, spending nights at the homes of BJP workers in different constituencies.
In backward taluks such as Canacona and Sanguem, he has spent nights at homes of village heads from the scheduled tribes. This image-building exercise is crucial for Mr. Parrikar, a Gaud Saraswat Brahmin, and also for the BJP, which is seeking to broaden its voter base.
“I was perceived by many as arrogant, which I am definitely not. I realised where I erred and made amends,” he says, getting off the rath at Pillar and waving to the gathered people and interacting with school children and small traders.